Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who is the Hero?

There is a meme going around arguing that Samwise Gamgee is the real hero in Lord of the Rings, not Frodo.  The argument hold some water.  Sam is the one who keeps his head and ensures the Ring (and Frodo) take the final step to Mordor.

However, as I've been re-watching the trilogy, I've been watching with this argument in mind.  Is Samwise Gamgee the real hero?

Well . . . Not by himself.

As we learned through the Hobbit and the the Fellowship of the Ring, some Hobbits have a resistance to the power of the Ring.  Resistance doesn't mean immune.  It took decades for it to worm into Bilbo's mind, but it easily corrupted Golum's mind.  Right when Bilbo's inner strength reached its end and he was becoming subject to the Ring, Frodo takes over.

The Ring can suck in humans without much, if any, physical contact.  The Elves fear it and won't touch it.  While Gandalf goes into a chain smoking trance after almost touching it.

That Ring has some seriously bad mojo to make the powers of the time steer clear of brushing up against it.

Now, add this into the whole mix: as Sauron grows in power and intensifies his search for the Ring, the Ring's malevolent power grows.  As we're reminded several times, "The Ring wants to be found."  The Ring knows that Sauron needs it and forces are in play to prevent Sauron from obtaining the Ring and his power hungry, total Middle Earth dominance life goal.  I suspect the Ring feels this and wants to do everything it can to help its creator and master.  That means working on everyone it comes in contact with or close enough contact.  It wants to be found

Frodo is the ring bearer--he gets the burden of carting around a malevolent force of nature that corrupts the souls of everyone who possesses it.  We don't see too many other Hobbit, other than Bilbo and Frodo and Gollum, hold the Ring for more than a few seconds or minutes.  Sam does gets a short stint holding it while Frodo is wrapped in webbing and taken by Orcs and encountering Shelob.

Frodo's initial stint as the ring bearer is as its keeper in the Shire.  He doesn't wear it or use it or keep it in close physical proximity.  He keeps it hidden.  It isn't until 17 years later, when he is constantly bearing it or putting it on, that the Ring really starts working on him.  We could speculate that if the Ring had been left with more time in Bag Ends with Frodo, it would eventually draw Frodo (or some other hapless Hobbit) into physical contact in order to corrupt Frodo quicker.  In addition to close proximity, Frodo gets a love tap from a Nazgul blade that weakens him.  He spends the next year and a half with the Ring in constant contact and he's been weakened by an injury he will never fully heal from.  The Ring has an ideal opportunity to work through Frodo's inherent resistance and internal strength.  Before it was a matter of decades maybe, now it is a matter of months to work through Frodo's resistance.

Sam, on the other hand, barely holds the Ring (a short time as bearer mentioned above) and struggles to give it back to Frodo.  Yes, Sam ensures that the Ring and Frodo get to the heart of the mountain and he goes through extraordinary efforts to get them there, but it is still Frodo and Gollum that get the Ring in the lava.

Frodo has suffered a slow internal struggle to maintain his resolve and will towards goodness.  Sam has been there to encourage and support Frodo throughout the entire journey, and even literally carried Frodo through parts.  If Sam had carried the Ring, he would likely have been crushed under its onslaught of malevolence within weeks, if not days.

Frodo couldn't have done it alone.  Sam wouldn't have been able to carry the Ring for longer than he did.  Separately, neither could have simply walked into Mordor.  Together, they managed to get there.  They both are heroes.  With Sam's deferential personality--especially to someone almost 2 decades older than he is--it is natural for Sam to let Frodo take the glory, even foist it on Frodo rather than claim his part.

Like all battles, rarely is it the actions of one person that decides the outcome of a battle once it has been joined.  It is the coordinated efforts--sometimes planned, sometimes not--of people during the battle that determine success.  That is the case here: Sam's support and encouragement to Frodo combined with Frodo's inherent resistance to the Ring carry the day, while the others in the Fellowship cover down on the other aspects of the war.